Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Jamie Baron

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago? 

I started volunteering in April 2011 so this April will be three years at PAWS. In 2008, I broke my back and in September 2009 I had two surgeries to repair the damage. This included a spinal fusion and metal rods and screws throughout my low back.  It was a long painful recovery that took two years.  During that time I went into a deep depression mourning the loss of all the things I'd never be able to do again and included giving up my career as a stage actor and going on disability.  One of my friends suggested that I check out PAWS since I loved animals so much.  When I started volunteering the depression was so bad that it was difficult for me to even carry on a conversation.  But over time I was getting so much love from the animals that my depression started lifting and eventually I felt like myself again.  For as much love and care as I was giving the animals, I got even more in return from them and I thank PAWS for saving my life from the pit of depression I had been in.


Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

My primary focus is working in Dog Town.  I also teach new volunteers Level 1 training and spend a lot of time mentoring new volunteers which I love doing.


Is there a favorite experience that has stood out during your time as a volunteer?

In June 2013, I discovered a feral kitten living in a storage area in the back of my condo building.  She was about three months old.  I started feeding her and from that point on she never left my backyard.  I have three cats of my own who are trained to stay in my fenced in back yard.  The kitten, who I named Hana, loved my cats and would walk right into my kitchen and up to my cats but would run if I got close to her.  I realized she was born outside and had no experience with people.  I decided that when winter came if she was still outside I wouldn't be able to live with myself.  I spoke to Kinga at PAWS and got material from her on how to socialize a feral kitten.  I also studied videos on YouTube.  I got a feral trap from PAWS and captured her.  I put her in my bathroom and the first night she freaked out so I let her be.  The next morning I went in to feed her and she kept running away from me, but I knew from her disposition that she was sweet.  I finally grabbed her and put her in my lap and after about 30 seconds she started purring and she ate right out of my hand.  Thus began my adventure in socializing Hana.  I spent five and a half weeks working with her, getting her used to other people, playing the radio and TV to get her used to sounds in a house.  She trusted me completely but was still pretty shy around other people.  My intention had always been to give her to PAWS but when the time finally came I cried all the way to the Rescue & Recovery Center.  She was given to PAWS on a Monday, she was spayed on Tuesday and arrived at the Adoption Center on Wednesday.  On Wednesday morning I showed up early to reassure Hana and make her feel ok.  I stayed with her for two hours and later that same day she was adopted.  Two weeks later I called the new family to see how she was adjusting and they said she was doing great and asked if I would like to visit her.  Since I thought I would never see her again I jumped at the chance.  Three weeks later, I saw her again in her new home, which included Mom, Dad, and three kids.  The change was amazing.  She was no longer shy.  She was running up and down the hallways and the 11 year old had even trained her to run up the ladder to the top bunk in his bed.  I had a wonderful sense of closure realizing that I had saved her life and she now had a wonderful loving home.


How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer?

My career as a stage actor has served me well at PAWS as I am very comfortable talking to people and speaking to groups which has helped with my Level 1 teaching as well as mentoring new volunteers.


Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago? 

I volunteer at PAWS because it brings me great joy.  I volunteer every Friday and Saturday and those days are the highlight of my week.  Nothing makes me happier then when I send a dog to his new forever home.  I also love getting covered in dog kisses.  Those just make my day.


Do you have any pets at home?

I have three cats.  Not too long ago I also had three dogs who are all gone now, but at my peak I had three dogs and two cats, then two dogs and three cats and eventually I went from a dog owner my whole life to a cat owner.  Working with the dogs at PAWS is how I get my dog fix.


Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that support animals?

I work a lot of events at PAWS.  I volunteer at all the PAWSta parties over the summer for the TEAM PAWS marathon runners.  I volunteer at the Angels with Tails adoption events over the summer at Lincoln Square and Roscoe Village.  I also volunteer at the Fur Ball.


What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?    

PAWS Chicago has brought much value to my life.  Helping the dogs and being an advocate for them fills me with such happiness.  PAWS saved my life when I was in the depths of depression and I will always be grateful for that.  I have made wonderful lifelong friends at PAWS and it is great being around other like-minded animal lovers who put the needs of the PAWS animals ahead of their own.  I look forward to many more happy years at PAWS!